A quarter of mums in the UK admit to feeling ‘very disappointed’ if their child is the ‘wrong’ sex - ie. not the sex they’d hoped for.
A further 3% said this affected their ability to bond with their child long-term and 6% would consider flying abroad for gender selection IVF, which is currently illegal in the UK.
Mothers are twice as likely to want daughters over sons, the survey of 2,189 UK mums from parenting site ChannelMum.com found. While dads are three times more likely to want a baby boy.
ChannelMum’s founder Siobhan Freegard, believes it is important this feeling is spoken about openly, but adds that understanding a child is not defined by their sex can help new parents to overcome this feeling of disappointment.
“Boy or girl - every child is a blessing, but the issue of gender disappointment is something we need to talk about and bring into the open,” said Freegard.
“With mums and dads often at odds about the gender they really want, one parent will usually end up disappointed, so we must ensure families have the support they need to bond with their baby,” Freegard continued.
“It’s worth remembering a child isn’t their gender - they are their own people with their own personality. So whatever the gender, let your child be who they are, not what you hoped them to be.”
The majority (80%) of mums questioned said they believe it’s normal to have a preference on the gender of your child.
Yasmeen Hassan, Equality Now’s global executive director and mum of two boys, told The Huffington Post UK that she can relate, as she herself had a preference for girls.
“As a women’s rights activist I always thought I wanted two children and they would be girls - as I have so much to share with, and teach, a girl.” she said.
“Before my sons were born I didn’t think the same would be possible with boys. But after having the boys I figured out that it is actually a great privilege to be a strong mother of boys, because you can bring up feminist boys.”
Hassan added that she can’t relate to the feeling of disappointment linked to gender preference.
“My experience was I had these children and immediately they were individuals,” she explained.
“I looked at them from the time they were born and they had very distinct personalities and I realised it is such an honour to know this person and to explore who they are and what they will become.
“It seems to me that the disappointment comes when people have a vision of what different gendered children can do. For instance if they’ve always imagined playing baseball with their child and they believe that child has to be a boy for that dream to be possible.
“The disappointment may also arise if they want to see their child as an extension of themselves. I’ve seen some parents who say, ‘I didn’t get to do this, so my son will get to do x, y and z,’ and if they don’t have that son then there’s a disappointment.
“So to avoid disappointment you have to stop looking at children as an extension of yourself or as a gender stereotype. Instead, see them as individuals who can be anything that they want.”
The study also revealed the most common reasons parents gave for wanting a child of a certain sex. Top reason for wanting girls included: girls stay closer to their parents when they grow up (41%); girls are more fun to dress up (40%); and girls are better behaved (7%).
While the top reasons for wanting boys were: boys are easier (14%); boys are more fun to play with (9%); or cultural reasons (4%).
Dr Tamara Kayali Browne, lecturer in health ethics and professionalism at Deakin University, Australia, recently wrote about sex selection in a blog on The Guardian’s Comment Is Free.
She explained that parents hoping to get a specific parenting experience based on their child’s sex may be denying themselves and their children a fulfilling relationship.
“According to the state of the evidence so far, there is no biological reason why parents can’t have the sort of bond and experiences they want with a child of any sex,” she wrote.
“Despite more than 100 years of research, scientific studies have failed to provide good evidence to support the belief that babies are born with something like a ‘male brain’ or a ‘female brain’ which causes the gender traits parents have in mind.
“If you play dolls with your son or football with your daughter, their brains will not explode.”